Mase’ei (Numbers 33:1 – 36:13)

[Remember, the jokes come after the commentary.]

The heat seems to have softened my brain a bit. Good thing I’m taking a vacation day tomorrow.  From 2008:

“Very often, the chapters that recount the final weeks of the 40-year journey of the Israelites can be confusing.  At this point, of all who left Egypt, only Moses, Joshua, and Caleb are still alive.  Yet most of the time, when Moses addresses the people, it is as if he is speaking to the ones who were slaves in Egypt.  The new generation before him didn’t go to all the places recounted in this week’s portion.  It’s partly a literary style, but also more.  When we read “You went to (wherever)” it’s analogous to a history lesson or family story, “We came to this land…” in which everyone knows it was our ancestors who came, but we are identifying with the entire group.   While “we went” encourages identification with the group, “You went…” additionally induces personal reflection about one’s history.  Even the melody used to chant 14 pairs of verses in Chapter 33 (the travelogue) emphasizes this sense of individual absorption and adoption of group history:  It’s the melody used for the Song at the Red Sea.

After looking back, the Israelites must look forward.  The borders of the Promised Land are set.  New leaders are designated: Joshua, Eleazar, and a chieftain for each tribe who will be in charge of the land allotments.  The towns and surrounding pasture for the Levites are established, including six towns to serve as refuges for perpetrators of manslaughter. The book of Numbers ends with a follow-up to the story of the daughters of Zelophehad.  After it was that they could inherit their father’s land since he had no sons, other members of their clan identified a wrinkle (laws always come with wrinkles or develop them shortly).  If these daughters, and others in similar circumstances, marry outside their tribe, will their land go with them? Wouldn’t this eventually lead to a hopeless scrambling of the tribes’ holdings?  The solution: in order to keep the land, a daughter who marries must marry within the tribe.  And indeed, the five daughters of Zelophehad married cousins in the tribe of Manasseh.  [One my great aunts married her first cousin (this was about a century ago) and they had to get married in New Jersey because such marriages were illegal in Pennsylvania.]”

There’s an interesting take on this portion by R. Marc Wolf at , in which he draws comparisons between Jack Kerouac’s 1951 epic, On the Road and the actual journey on which it’s based, illustrating the difficulty in choosing what to highlight and whether to look more backward or forward.  Why does Moses describe their journey in such a bare bones fashion?  Perhaps the stories of each stop were well known.  Perhaps this was just a pro forma recitation so that aspect of their past could be put to rest and their attention re-focused on the imminent arrival in the Promised Land.

This week,  we read the second Haftarah of Rebuke, which picks up from where last week’s stopped in Jeremiah.  We’re about at the midpoint of the three weeks of mourning leading up to Tisha B’Av.  For more info, go to, e.g., or

Next week: a new Book.

Shabbat shalom,

Parshas Maasei On One Foot
by S. Galena
Posted: 07-09-2006

Jews: Are we there yet?


Travel Jokes…”He who laughs last didn’t get it”

There is an art in writing travel brochures, as well as a matching art in reading them.
Without wishing to suggest that the following translations always apply, you might find the following terms to be of wry amusement…


Brochure Term                      Translation

Old world charm                        No bath

Tropical                                       Rainy

Majestic setting                          A long way from town

Options galore                            Nothing is included in the itinerary

Secluded hideaway                    Impossible to find or get to

Pre-registered rooms                Already occupied

Explore on your own                 Pay for it yourself

Knowledgeable trip hosts         They’ve flown before

No extra fees                              No extras

Nominal charge                          Outrageous charge

Standard                                     Substandard

Deluxe                                         Standard

Superior                                      Two free shower caps

All the amenities                        One free shower cap

Plush                                            Top and bottom sheets

Gentle breezes                           Gale-force winds

Light and airy                            No air conditioning

Picturesque                                Theme park nearby

Open bar                                    Free ice cubes


Tourist Guide Jokes

A bus load of tourists arrives at Runnymede. They gather around the guide who says, “This is the spot where the barons forced King John to sign the Magna Carta.”
A fellow at the front of the crowd asks, “When did that happen?”
“1215,” answers the guide.
The man looks at his watch and says, “Damn! Just missed it by a half hour!”

Two tourists were driving through Louisiana. As they were approaching Natchitoches,
they started arguing about the pronunciation of the town. They
argued back and forth until they stopped for lunch. As they stood at the counter,
one tourist asked the employee, “Before we order, could you please
settle an argument for us? Would you please pronounce where we are… very slowly?”
The girl leaned over the counter and said, “Burrrrrrrr, gerrrrrrr, Kiiiiing.”

Answer on a college level, freshman biology exam:
“gonads: a tribe of wandering desert people.”


#3. We’ve Got BLUE People!

Being part Appalachian, Kentuckians are used to inbreeding jokes. However, there is one joke about Kentucky and inbreeding that’s funny because it’s true: The story of the Blue Fugates of Troublesome Creek. The Fugates were an extended family living in an isolated hollow in Eastern Kentucky ominously named Troublesome Creek. Most members of the family had “hereditary methemoglobinemia.” This is an enzyme deficiency that causes a person’s blood to run vein blue as opposed to arterial red. Instead of being pink, these people are tinted blue or purple. The condition is based on a recessive gene; the only way to acquire it is if both your parents pass down the love. So what were the odds of clan founder Martin Fugate taking another methemoglobinemia carrier as his wife? He did, and they settled in Troublesome Creek sometime in the mid 19th Century. Cousins marrying cousins was commonplace among isolated Appalachians, so by the time a doctor discovered the Fugates in the 1960s, there were several blue people living in the hills around Hazard.

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